Essays on American politics and foreign policy
By Donald E. Nuechterlein
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist
and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the
author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy,
- Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
- America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
- A Cold War Odyssey, 1997
FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES OF THE FUTURE
George Bush and his successor in the Oval Office are faced with the stark
reality that America is not rich enough or wise enough to sustain the hegemonic
superpower role that it took on after the Cold War ended.
Following the Soviet Union's collapse and the U.S.-led defeat of Saddam
Hussein's army in the Gulf War, most Americans decided it was time to relax and
enjoy the luxury of being the world's sole remaining superpower. In 1992 voters
decided to put the Cold War behind them and replace President George H.W. Bush
with Bill Clinton, a man of the post-World War II generation.
In his first term, domestic affairs, not foreign policy, was Clinton's top
priority. However, he was persuaded by our NATO allies to send U.S. forces to
Bosnia in 1996 to stop a brutal civil war, something he had not done in Rwanda
earlier. In Clinton's second term, foreign policy got a higher priority under
the stewardship of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and General Wesley
Clark, the U.S. NATO commander. As a result, Iraq, Kosovo, and Al Qaeda became
priorities, even though the president declined to use U.S. troops to oust Saddam
Hussein or move against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
George W. Bush, like Clinton, entered office thinking he could put foreign
policy on the back burner while concentrating on domestic priorities, notably
huge tax cuts. The traumatic events of 9-11 forced a reversal of that policy.
U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in far more casualties
and financial drain than President Bush and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld
had led the public to expect. Many Americans are now disillusioned and in a mood
to abandon Iraq.
What does this portend about future U.S. policy? Here are six international
challenges that will weigh heavily on George Bush in his remaining years in
office, and on presidents who will be elected in 2008 and 2012.
- The Iraq war makes it very difficult for any president to engage in another
preventive war unless the danger is clear, the public is convinced that
intelligence is accurate, and major allies in Europe and Asia support the
action. No longer will the public simply accept the government's view of the
- Foreign economic policy, especially trade relations, will get far
more attention because the U.S. economy is increasingly vulnerable to
international events, such as the current large increase in oil prices. Canada
and Mexico, the largest suppliers of oil to the U.S. market and our major
trading partners, require more presidential attention and skillful diplomacy.
China's continuing massive trade surplus with America fuels congressional
protectionist sentiment and increases pressure for the president to act.
- Iran's nuclear ambitions raise the question of preventive war if current
U.N. diplomatic efforts fail. Britain, France, and Germany, supported by
Washington, are united in opposing Iran's drive to enrich uranium in preparation
for producing nuclear weapons. Russia and China are unwilling, so far, to
support economic sanctions. If Iran refuses to stop uranium enrichment, any
president will be hard pressed to avoid a military showdown.
- Combating Islamic terrorists will remain a high priority. The Washington
Post reported recently that the Pentagon had dispatched teams of Special
Operations Forces to many countries in Asia and Africa to find and destroy
terrorist networks. Casualties will certainly result, and relations with host
governments may be inflamed. Our experience in Somalia should be instructive
because the deaths of seventeen paratroopers caused the American public to
demand the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces. Those who think that combat teams
operating out of American embassies will incur few costs underestimate the price
that will likely be paid for these new counter-insurgency operations.
- A serious long-term risk for any president's foreign policy is an
unwillingness of Congress and the public to accept the high costs of America's
superpower role. Although the backlash against the Iraq war is far less than it
was over Vietnam, the mood of retrenchment is rising in the country,
particularly in the Democratic Party. This may leave presidents with less
political influence to deal with dangerous threats abroad.
As America's influence abroad declines, which new power or group of nations
will step forward and challenge the world order established by the United States
and its allies during the Cold War, and that Washington defended largely by
itself during the past decade? The truth is that no other country or grouping
will take on this responsibility in the near future.
As a result, we are entering a dangerous period when ambitious new
contenders, notably Iran, and potentially also China, Pakistan, Indonesia,
Venezuela, and Brazil will attempt to fill regional power vacuums that will open
if America curtails its world policeman role. This will not be the tranquil
world that Americans expected at the end of the Cold War. In the coming decade,
presidents will be faced with a much more complicated, and more dangerous, world.
File last modified on Sunday, 10-APR-2006 8:33 PM EST